Hualapai chief urges Senate to approve water plan as wells fail due to drought – Cronkite News

Hualapai Chairman Damon Clarke, right, urged the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to pass a bill that would expand his tribe’s access to water and improve infrastructure, much-needed help as drought causes the failure of wells. (Photo by Morgan Fischer/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON — Hualapai Chairman Damon Clarke told a Senate committee on Wednesday that access to Colorado River water was “the only workable solution” for his tribe, whose wells are failing under the stress of persistent drought. .

The Hualapai Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2022 would grant the tribe water rights to the Colorado, Verde, and Bill Williams rivers and fund the construction of water infrastructure that would provide approximately 4,000 acres- feet of water per year to the tribe.

In addition to providing water to the approximately 1,600 Hualapai on the reservation, the project would serve Grand Canyon West and its Skywalk, tribal-owned tourist attractions that Clarke says are major employers of tribal members.

“The Colorado River is the only feasible solution to these problems and the only water supply capable of meeting the long-term needs of our people,” Clarke said. in testimony to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “The lack of a safe water supply is a major obstacle we still face.”

The Hualapai The reservation encompasses approximately 1 million acres along 108 miles of the Grand Canyon, with the Colorado River serving as its northern boundary. But previous agreements failed to draw water from Colorado for the tribe, which relied on wells for its water.

But a two-decade drought, considered the most severe in the Southwest for 1,200 years, has caused water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell to drop to historic lows and dried up wells and stressed aquifers. neighbors the Hualapai relied on.

“Three years ago these wells suddenly failed due to drought,” Clarke said.

The Hualapai have worked for decades to expand their water rights, efforts often opposed by the Interior Ministry. But Jason Freihage, deputy undersecretary for interior management, told the committee on Wednesday the department was “happy to support” the last invoice, which brought a fleeting smile to Clarke’s face.

In addition to expanding access, the bill would also create a $180 million Hualapai Water Trust Fund account and a $5 million Hualapai Water Settlement Implementation Fund account that would be used for construction costs, operation and environmental compliance of a water main.

The bill was sponsored by Arizona Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly. Sinema said the audience the bill provides “long-term stability to the water needs of the Hualapai Tribe in Northern Arizona, which is especially important as Arizona and the Southwest face historic drought conditions” .

An identical Internal invoice was sponsored by Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, and co-sponsored by Arizona Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix; Paul Gosar, R-Prescott; Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix; and Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Tucson. He was granted a May 12 hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee, but no further action was taken.

In A declaration after the bill was introduced, O’Halleran said it “considers tribal sovereignty, the protection of our most precious natural resource, and the growing communities of Peach Springs and Grand Canyon West.”

In addition to the less crowded views of the Grand Canyon, the Hualapai owns and operates the Grand Canyon West features the Skywalk, a glass-bottom walkway that spans 70 feet into the canyon, with the canyon floor 4,000 feet below . But water shortages have affected the tribe’s ability to keep these tourist services running smoothly.

“The collapse of these wells has forced us to limit our operations to Grand Canyon West, threatening our tribal economy and the primary source of employment for our members,” Clarke told the committee.

To keep operations going, the tribe had to pump water from an aquifer and truck it “15 miles by truck on a gravel road to Grand Canyon West,” Clarke said. “This is the only way to continue our remaining operations at Grand Canyon West.”

The Hualapai “will help in any way we can to ensure the enactment of this essential legislation,” said Clarke, who called the bill “absolutely essential if our tribe is to achieve a secure future on our reservation, to deal with the future growth of our population and realizing the full economic potential of our reserve.

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